Surveillance

Netflix’s ‘Wormwood’ Spotlights CIA’s Secret LSD Mind Control Experiments

Victoria Kim
The Fix

The upcoming Netflix docudrama dives deep into the conspiracy theory about the CIA’s attempt to develop tools for mind control.

The CIA’s mind control experiments from the 1950s and 1960s—known as MK-ULTRA—are the subject of a new Netflix series that revisits the epic conspiracy theory.

Wormwood is part documentary, part drama. Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris weaves in dramatic reenactments with real-life interviews. One person of particular interest is Eric Olson, the son of Dr. Frank Olson, known as the CIA biochemist who died after falling 10 stories from a New York City hotel room in 1953. Though his death was ruled a suicide, his family and others believe that he was assassinated by the CIA. 

It’s no longer a secret that the agency oversaw hundreds of mind control experiments during the height of the Cold War—fueled by fears that Soviet, Chinese and North Korean agents were brainwashing American prisoners of war.

According to a 1984 broadcast of 60 Minutes, MK-ULTRA involved more than 130 research programs that took place in prisons, hospitals and universities all over the U.S. Many of the experiments left the test subjects “emotionally crippled for life.”

The clandestine experiments famously involved the use of not only LSD, but psilocybin (magic mushrooms), methamphetamine, barbiturates, mescaline, MDMA, and electroshock therapy. The CIA was attempting to develop tools for mind control, information gathering and psychological torture, according to History.com.

“The rationale for all of this? Well, the [CIA] memo doesn’t say,” said Ed Bradley, according to a 60 Minutes transcript found on the CIA’s website. “But it’s apparent that learning how to make people do things they normally wouldn’t do by controlling their minds is valuable if you’re in the espionage business.”

Eric Olson and his brother Nils have made it their life’s mission to uncover the truth about their father’s death. According to History.com, Frank Olson “drank a cocktail that had been secretly spiked with LSD” during a CIA retreat just days before he fell from his hotel room window.

A second autopsy in 1994 revealed injuries that had “likely occurred before the fall” leading many to believe that Frank Olson was killed by the CIA. In 1976, the family received a settlement of $750,000 and a personal apology from then-President Gerald Ford and CIA Director William Colby. 

All six parts of Wormwood will premiere on Netflix on December 15.

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